Amanda Watson
News Editor
3 minute read
15 Jan 2019
6:44 am

How Prasa just keeps being allowed to smear blood on the tracks

Amanda Watson

The safety regulator has tried to control the rail agency, but it keeps getting away with dangerously operating train services manually.

Picture: Twitter @Abramjee Following Following (@Abramjee)

Between June 2017 and October 2017, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) allowed more than 600,000 manual train authorisations (MTA), 80% of which were due to Prasa management inaction instead of vandalism and theft of cables, as claimed by Prasa.

That was the startling statement made by the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) before the parliamentary committee on transport during a meeting between the committee, Prasa and the RSR way back in October.

According to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, which monitors and records everything that happens in parliament, RSR acting CEO Tshepo Kgare reminded the committee that its members and the RSR had previously “expressed concerns on the increase in MTAs, which had led to many collisions.”

An analysis of the reasons for manual authorisations showed faulty tracks accounted for 31%, faulty signals 23%, cable theft and vandalism 19.5%, and speed restrictions 15%.

Kgare noted at the time that Prasa itself had stated on January 16 last year “that from previous studies it had conducted it was found that operational incidents were four times more likely to happen under occupation conditions, and 40 times more likely under abnormal conditions”.

The RSR had noticed that Prasa was not controlling its operations during the abnormal MTAs and it decided to suspend Prasa’s operating licence, Kgare told the committee.

The continuation of the MTAs led to five major collisions: Elandsfontein (June 1, 2017) which earned Prasa a R5 million fine for using an MTA despite a prohibition; Geldenhuys (January 9, 2018); Booysens (September 4, 2018); Van Riebeeck Park (October 4, 2018); and the latest being Mountainview last week.

In all these collisions, the train control officer (TCO) had wrongfully authorised trains while using manual authorisations, PMG recorded.

The 2018 RSR State of Safety report stated that Prasa was the top contributor in several categories of people struck by trains: platform-train interchange occurrences, level crossing occurrences, collisions and passengers travelling outside the designated area of trains.

The safety report found the three rail operators contributed to 1,027 collisions, followed by fire (745, 70% of which attributed to veld fires), platform-train interchange occurrences (744), people struck by trains (588) and derailments (450).

Aside from not enforcing its own safety recommendations and promises, Prasa also has a problem with the department of transport robbing Peter to pay Paul.

PMG recorded on November 21 that the DoT requested “approval for a virement shift of R3 billion” from Prasa to roads agency Sanral for “infrastructure and maintenance of road networks”, and “increasing the operational budget and financial position of Sanral”.

“The DoT assured the committee that the R3 billion transfer to Sanral will not be detrimental to Prasa as it is still not in a position to spend or accelerate expenditure on its capital programme. Prasa’s capital programmes were seriously delayed because of procurement challenges, but the DoT is working with National Treasury and Prasa to implement the capital programmes,” the PMG recorded.

RSR spokesperson Madelein Williams said pursuant to Transport Minister Blade Nzimande’s request, the regulator would be submitting a report with recommendations in the near future.

Nzimande stepped in between the RSR and Prasa when Prasa took the RSR to court over Prasa’s rail safety certificate last year, which the regulator refused to issue after the Van Riebeeck park collision that left up to 320 people injured.

Nzimande said then that there should be “severe consequences” if human error was established to be the cause of the rear-end collision.

Despite this, according to Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani, there “was nothing to report at this stage” with regard to prosecution, pending or otherwise.

Zenani would not speak on internal disciplinary processes.

“Should there be a need to communicate any matter that is of public interest, as a state-owned entity and subject to public scrutiny, Prasa will communicate appropriately,” Zenani said.

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